7 Amazing Instances of Social Media Helping Us Connect Offline

PHOTO: A Facebook friend. You guys.
Flickr/Andrew Sorensen

Plenty of groan-eliciting jokes have been made about how "social media" breeds anti-social behavior. Of course, people who make such jokes are one, terrible and have no friends, and two, tend to forget that people have always gone to great lengths to avoid one another, from cavemen frantically blowing out their cave fires so that their cave neighbors will think they're not home, to present day twenty-somethings who spend their weekends lurking, invisible, on Gchat while pretending to be out. Also, this charge simply isn't true. If anything, social media -- which has the name it does for a reason -- makes it harder to avoid people than ever before. On a more optimistic note, it also allows us to better connect with people who share their interests and enrich their lives.

Here, then, are examples of how social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or other online platforms with social capabilities, have helped people around the world connect to one another offline.

PHOTO: Paying it forward
Facebook/Keep On Truckin Team Jayden
Facebook Pays it Forward

When Tom and Nicole Lamb shared a Facebook post about spontaneously deciding to pay for the meal of the person behind them at the drive-thru window, they had no idea that they'd be setting off a chain of events that'd result in thousands of people "paying it forward" across the U.S. The couple was still reeling from the death of their eight-year-old son, Jayden, who had succumbed to cancer, when they decided to perform a kind act as a 'thank you' to the community that had supported them and their son.

In the weeks following their post, people shared their own stories of being inspired to pay it forward, "Jayden Style," with kind acts ranging from paying for a stranger's cup of coffee to donating a diamond engagement ring to a local Salvation Army. Facebook helped both launch and draw attention to the campaign, as well as offer a simple and well-organized means of spreading people's stories about paying it forward.

PHOTO: Sister, sister / Never knew how much I missed you
Long-Lost Sisters Find Each Other Online

Samantha Futerman, an American actress, was surprised to find a Facebook message from a French stranger who happened to have her exact same face. The young woman was an aspiring fashion designer named Anaïs, and she had written to tell Samantha that a friend of hers had seen the actress in a YouTube video and thought the two girls shared an uncanny resemblance. "I then checked your name on the case," Anaïs wrote, "stalked you A BIT, and found out that you were born on the 19th of November, 1987." Not to be "too Lindsay Lohan," she continued, but "I was wondering where you were born?" The two soon discovered that they'd been born in South Korea on the same day, later adopted by two different families -- one in the U.S. and the other in France. The two then worked together on a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary about meeting for the first time in person and taking DNA tests to prove for sure that they are, in fact, twin sisters separated at birth.

As Samantha explains, this "ever-expanding, social media-obsessed world we live in has given me the chance to reconnect with a person whom I knew only from a nine-month extravaganza inside my biological mother's womb."

PHOTO: Sister, Sister (redux)
AEP, via NDJ World
72 Years Later...

Facebook seems like a pretty good place to find a long-lost sister, actually. It worked for two Bosnian sisters, 88-year-old Tanija Delic and 82-year-old Hedija Talic, who had been separated in 1941 at the start of World War II. Talic ended up in an orphanage, unsure of what had become of her family members. Years later, her son found his cousin through Facebook, and the two sisters -- having discovered that they now lived about 120 miles apart from one another -- were finally reunited.

PHOTO: China (in case you were wondering)
Man Kidnapped as Child Uses Google Maps to Find Family

After Luo Gang was abducted from his family at age five, he would envision his childhood home in his mind before bed so that he wouldn't forget the place he'd been taken from. One specific image that had been etched into his memory was of two bridges that crossed his hometown.

Twenty-three years later, he decided to use what he had remembered of his home to draw a map, which he shared online. Soon, someone reached out to him, telling him about a couple who had lost their son 23 years prior. Luo looked up the couple's town on Google Maps and, sure enough, saw the bridges he had remembered since childhood. He eventually reunited with his birth family, proving that Google Maps can be used for so much more than stalking or scaring the living crap out of people.

PHOTO: Matthew Keys and his brother, Adam
Fox40.com, via Mashable
Twitter Reunites Long-Lost Brothers

You might recognize the name Matthew Keys, particularly if you follow Reuters or are in some way ensconced within the online media bubble. Much of Keys' career has unfolded online, and his personal life has in a big way as well. One day, as he was prepping for bed, Keys checked Twitter and saw a message from someone named Adam Smith asking whether his mother's name was Jackie. The two, who had crossed paths online before, got to talking and began to realize that they were brothers.

"After telling our story on Facebook, we were flooded with people e-mailing and posting to our wall about similar lost and found stories involving biological and adopted siblings and relatives," Keys said about the online reunion. "It was extremely touching."

PHOTO: Just an average Joe
Collaborating & Creating

You know Joseph Gordon Levitt, right? Handsome actor, rocker of suits? Well, he's launched an "open-collaborative production company" called hitRECord that allows writers, videographers, illustrators, musicians, and other creative people to collaborate on all sorts of projects. You can browse the site and check out both finished video, audio, image, and text "records," as well as projects in the process of being made. Artists can also search for projects that require their unique vision and skill sets to be completed. It's great! The company will also exist on TV as a collaborative, user-generated variety show showcasing all the great art people create together.

At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, this is the entire point of social media -- connecting people and ideas online.

PHOTO: Helping reunite pets and pet owners in OK

The devastating tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 left death and destruction in its wake. Families felt broken, belongings were destroyed, and homes and business were completely decimated. The massive storm also resulted in pet owners losing track of their animals, including a woman whose dog happened to be located right in the middle of her TV news interview.

Now, there's a Facebook page designed to help people locate lost pets by posting pictures and descriptions of animals they have either lost or found. The page notes that it is manned by volunteers who "utilize social media and other offline resources to help reunite lost pets with their owners in the aftermath of disasters."

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